1. Keats lost both of his parents when he was a boy.
Born on October 31st, 1795 in London, John Keats was only eight years old when his father died after being thrown from a horse. His mother remarried, experienced financial problems, and saw her second marriage disintegrate, a series of events which led her to leave her children in the care of their grandmother for several years. She came back to her family but did not live long after her return. Keats was fourteen years old when his mother died from tuberculosis, the same illness which would take Keats’ own life just over ten years later.
2. As a young man, Keats attended medical school.
When he was a teenager, Keats worked as an apprentice to a surgeon. He then studied at Guy’s Hospital (which today is part of King’s College London) to become a doctor. He saw a great deal of illness during this time, and part of his job was to dress wounds and assist in surgeries. As his studies took up more and more of his time, and as he became more devoted to writing poetry, he choose to leave school. He had no formal higher education in literature and writing, but he was a voracious reader who borrowed countless books from his former headmaster.
3. Keats published only 54 poems during his lifetime and sold only a total of 200 books.
In 1817, Keats published his first book, simply titled Poems. This book was unsuccessful when it was first released and sold just a handful of copies. In 1818, his second book, Endymion, a 4000-line poem based on a Greek myth was also met with harsh criticism from readers and writers at the time. His third and last book of poems, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, was published in 1820. During Keats’ lifetime, his three books combined had sold a total of only 200 copies.
4. Experiencing many losses in his short lifetime, Keats suffered from depression.
It’s unclear how deep and how long Keats’ depressive episodes were, but it seems sure that he experienced depression triggered by some of the profound losses in his life, such as the death of his grandmother in 1814. He wrote of “sad Despondency” in his poem, “To Hope” in 1815, and his brother introduced him to some literary friends in hopes of cheering him. Friends and family of Keats noted that he seemed to find solace in reading and writing.
5. Upon meeting Fanny Brawne, Keats entered a prolific and meaningful period as a writer.
Keats met Fanny Brawne in 1818 and fell in love. In the years that followed, he wrote some of his finest and most famous poems. Sadly, their romance was short-lived as Keats began experiencing symptoms of tuberculosis in 1820 and left England for Italy in September of that year. He wrote letters to Fanny at first but then could no longer bear to write to her and wrote to her mother instead. He died in Italy on February 21, 1821.
6. On Keats request, his tombstone doesn’t have his name or birth date on it.
Keats was buried in Rome shortly after he died and the tombstone contains only following words:
This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone
Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821
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